PowerSat Corp. has filed a provisional patent for two technologies called BrightStar and Solar Power Orbital Transfer, that are expected make the transmission of space solar power more cost-effective by reducing the price for launch and operation of systems as large as 2,500 megawatts by about $1 billion.
This follows Solaren’s recently signed deal for the first-ever power purchase agreement to deliver 200 megawatts of solar energy from space with California’s Pacific Gas & Electric.
Meanwhile the Swiss company Space Energy is working toward the launch of a prototype satellite in the next 2 to 3 years.
Quickly reviewing, the idea is to use orbiting satellites, called powersats, to collect solar energy in space, many times more potent than the hottest brightest desert sun and beam it down to earth. Unlike the intermittent solar energy at the planet’s surface, an orbital power satellite is not interrupted by clouds and the night and they could provide virtually unlimited emissions free energy undiminished by atmosphere or cloud cover. Operating 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, an orbital satellite system would receive 20 to 25 times the energy of a similar-sized terrestrial solar power plant in theory, at the cost of a large hydroelectric power project.
Its being said that orbital power satellites can work reliably when composed of proven technologies using standard satellites, standard high capacity solar panels, electricity to radio wave converters and radio wave transmitters and receivers. The companies working in orbital power seem to agree a utility scale system should be deployable within the next decade. Here is PowerSat’s video on YouTube.
PowerSat Corp., a partner of PowerSat Limited in London and a subsidiary of PowerSat International in Gibraltar has filed U.S. Provisional Patent No. 61/177,565 for “Space Based Power Systems and Methods.” The company, only founded in 2001, has obtained $3-to-$5 million in angel funding to begin the proof of concept process with a 10-kilowatt demonstration of wireless power transmission capability on Earth. In the meantime it’s negotiating a first round of further venture financing in “the single-digit millions.” Later hopes are to launch a $100 million, low-earth-orbit project by 2015 and then partner with a utility or government agency on a utility-scale project of 2.5 gigawatts, at a cost of $4-to-$5 billion, between 2019 and 2021. This is cheaper than nukes or clean coal.
Orbital solar arrays have been in the imaginative mind since the 1960s. Science has caught up with imagination; the plausibility has advanced theory into serious research. It’s a risky place to invest billions of dollars because the power that is landed on the surface may not be enough to return a profit on the invested capital.
That makes the first of PowerSat’s breakthroughs of cost cutting technologies is called BrightStar important. It reduces the single big, array-carrying satellite into a cluster of hundreds of small satellites that work together with wireless electronic connectivity to broadcast a single beam to the earth receiving station, called a “rectenna.” BrightStar allows for launching sets of clusters in varying capacities. Those are joined into a more efficient system that is more reliable because a failure of a single unit or cluster does not mean the failure of the entire system and faulty individual elements can be replaced without causing down time or replacement of the whole system. Sensible, pragmatic and getting serious in capital risk management now.
PowerSat’s other cost saving concept is “Solar Power Orbital Transfer” a technology that uses the solar array’s electricity to power the satellite’s electronic thrusters. The thrusters boost the satellites from low earth orbit, 300-to-1,000 miles up to the geosynchronous earth orbit, 22,236 miles up. Using its own solar energy-generated electricity for the boost eliminates the need for an orbital vehicle, the extra fuel needed to lift the system to high orbit so cutting the weight of the launch by some estimated 67%, which dramatically decreases the cost.
It isn’t much of a stretch to consider using something such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 lift vehicle. That would skip past the Fed’s and the NASA determined price to lift to orbit. The investment might well pan out, becoming the cash cow to end all cash cows if the things would stay operating with low cost maintenance over a long time. The technology to drive to higher orbits alone may well prove worthwhile.
I’m not clear on the mathematic calculation behind PowerSat CEO William Maness comment, “This patent filing is a watershed moment not only for PowerSat but for a renewables industry that, until now, could neither compete economically nor generate power at the base load scale of oil or coal. Today, the convergence of technology and energy demand, combined with the political will to wean us off of fossil fuels, enables space solar power to fill a widening clean energy supply gap.” Just how pricey he expects the power to be might be cause for investor alarm, because by no means is the competition, government intervention or not, going to disappear without a price fight.